Saturn has always been an odd duck of a company.

From the beginning they branded themselves as being a “different kind of car company.” Saturn had the ads showing their salespeople not applying pressure in their showrooms but instead giving out donuts and back rubs. They boasted of their “no-haggle-actual-real-price” formula to ensure buyers never again felt screwed. No more would we hear “the other guy got floor mats and I didn’t.” Things were different now. Commercial after commercial showed Saturn dealers from some bum-crack burg or other driving hundreds of miles to return a stuffed animal or fix a flat. These people were crazy, but they were crazy for you.

And as cheesy as the whole thing was, I liked them. I liked them a lot. How could you not respond to them? Most of their claims were even true. You had to be impressed. Their cars still looked gorky as hell but I really liked the company behind them.

And for GM of all companies to be able to convince me that one of their brands was somehow better built and better managed than anything else running was no small feat. Consider the legendary crankiness of the average autoworker on the line or the recently revealed proof that baboons run the boardroom and you’ve got a heck of an image problem to overcome.

But Saturn did it. Bravo.

Time passed and their ads shifted somewhat. While the notion remained that Saturn was a sensible place to buy a car their whole “good guy” routine sort of floated out of consciousness. They made some new cars here and there but on the whole I think most of us kind of forgot about them.

Then I saw their new ad. It showed that Saturn won the “North American Car of the Year” award for their new Aura sedan. Nothing new here. Car companies are always winning some award or other and posing it on their cars at auto shows or arranging magazine photo shoots with them. Not Saturn. They decided to share their award with the people that had bought the car in the first place. In their TV ad they show the award being shipped all over the country with average Janes and Joes getting it in the mail, putting it on their mantle, taking a snap or two and then sending it on to the next appreciative Saturn owner.

I was captivated. No way did these guys actually do this. Would they really risk their fancy award’s well-being by shipping it around the country from slack-jawed yokel in Wyoming to prissy, uptight urbanite in New York City and back again?

Apparently so.

The company had 5 replica trophies made by Tiffany’s and after sending an email to 5000 or so Aura owners Saturn has actually delivered the award to about 350 people so far. They pay the FedEx bill of $30 each way, asking only that the recipient keep the trophy for a few days before sending it back to Saturn so they can mail it out again. What a phenomenal idea. Talk about a “car of the people.”

Considering most trophies end up in glass cases at corporate headquarters or in the CEO’s den propping up copies of “In Pursuit of Excellence” and Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” Saturn deserves some credit for remembering what winning is all about.

The story goes that Saturn’s regular ad agency suggested some ideas that seemed pretty run of the mill. Unconvinced, Saturn asked another agency to brainstorm for them. It was from this that the “share the trophy” idea emerged making Saturn so happy they dumped their old agency and moved their annual $200 million spend to the new firm. How’d you like to be the doof that blew that one? As far as corporate cock-ups go that’s way worse than getting drunk at the office Christmas party. Heck, that’s even worse than sleeping with the boss’ wife, at the office Christmas party.

It was a great idea. I love the whole “share the trophy” notion. Why can’t we the masses share in the success of that which we support? For example, I really liked “The Departed.” Maybe Scorsese could send me his Oscar for a few days so I could show my friends or pose for a Polaroid or two. Maybe take it golfing or to a movie or something. I mean if he really cared about me it’s the least he could do, right?

Or maybe Saturn really is a different kind of car company.

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